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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Act against those responsible for virtual ‘sale’ of Muslim women. There can be no impunity for criminal bigotry-misogyny

From doctoring women’s photographs to lewd comments to communal dog-whistling, they cross over into criminality and sexual harassment in ways that call for cyber-crime cells to take urgent attention.

By: Editorial |
Updated: January 4, 2022 11:29:05 am
The police investigation into those who created that app has made little progress, apparently because of the lack of adequate response from Github, which does not have a presence in India.

The online “sale” of 100-odd Muslim women on an app hosted on the Github platform is shocking and outrageous. The government must take urgent, exemplary action against the perpetrators. Simply taking down the app, without imposing costs on such criminal behaviour, is only an encouragement of impunity. Indeed, this is not the first instance of targeted harassment of Muslim women, especially those with an assertive presence on social media. In June last year, a similar app had staged an “auction” of women from the community, with language that dehumanised them into “deals of the day”. The police investigation into those who created that app has made little progress, apparently because of the lack of adequate response from Github, which does not have a presence in India. True, the anonymity of the internet makes it possible for criminals to mask their digital footprints and identity. But the government and its investigative agencies have the expertise and resources to track offenders down, and the clout to make multinational social media companies comply when they wish to — as has been seen in the Centre’s dealings with Twitter, for instance.

To frame this as a free speech issue would be wilful blindness. From doctoring women’s photographs to lewd comments to communal dog-whistling, they cross over into criminality and sexual harassment in ways that call for cyber-crime cells to take urgent attention. Across the world, women experience the internet as a place of hostility and abuse, one that punishes them for speaking their mind or telling their stories, that seeks to push them back into a corner by shaming and sexualising their bodies. But the “auction” of women from the minority community is not just standard-issue misogyny. In a climate of majoritarian excess, attacks on minorities and open unpunished calls for mass murder, the choreographed humiliation of Muslim women panders to the worst communal tendencies and fantasies of violence. It seeks to push out an already embattled community from the digital public square by attacking the dignity of its women.

It is even more important, therefore, for the government to draw the red lines and send out a strong, clear message. The Narendra Modi government’s stated commitment to women’s empowerment has led it to design schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. It has often congratulated itself as a champion of the rights of Muslim women by holding up legislation against triple talaq. It cannot now afford to be slow-footed in following through in a case of such flagrant violation. The Centre has often weaponised the IPC to go after dissenters and activists. This time, it must use push online platforms to assist with the investigation and identify the offenders. There must be firm, visible action against this criminal bigotry and misogyny.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 4, 2022 under the title ‘Track them down’.

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